Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Happy Av (not!): Anat Hoffman arrested at the Kotel

In Israel, at the Kotel (Wall), women are not allowed to pray the way we normally pray in the States. A group called Women of the Wall has met once a month to pray at the beginning of each Jewish month.

Yesterday, a college professor, Anat Hoffman, was arrested for carrying the Torah scroll. This video shows her arrest.

The Torah has carried our people for generations. It has allowed us to survive the unsurvivable. Anat carries the Torah and the Torah carries all of us.

For the past year, I have avoided writing about this issue, but no more. The right of return requires that all Jews, including women, have the right to pray at the Wall. The Jewish Forward interviewed Anat Hoffman and reports:
Woman Arrested for Carrying Torah Speaks With The Sisterhood – The Sisterhood – Forward.comFollowing the arrest today of Anat Hoffman — chair of Women of the Wall, and former Jerusalem municipal council member — for being a woman holding a Torah at the Western Wall plaza, Hoffman offered me her first-hand account of this morning’s events. She said:We did nothing wrong. We were fully within the guidelines of the Supreme Court ruling which allows us to hold the Torah. We were not reading from the Torah. We were just singing and praying, and on our way to Robinson’s Arch to complete the service, as per the terms of the Supreme Court. There was absolutely no reason for me to be arrested.
Historically, the Kotel was not considered a synagogue and in the past, men and woment have prayed side-by-side. Only in recent years has ultra orthodox control of the Kotel resulted in the current restrictions.

Dana Saverin gives a first-hand report for The Yale Globalist
This morning, a woman was arrested at Judaism’s most holy site, the Western Wall, for carrying a Torah scroll. While I have been doing some work for her organization, Women of the Wall, nothing could have prepared me for the outrage I felt watching several policemen tackle a group of women raising their voices together in prayer, and the admiration I experienced witnessing these women’s bravery. For twenty-two years, Women of the Wall have met at the beginning of every Hebrew month, Rosh Chodesh, to pray together at the Kotel. Women of the Wall is a group of Israeli and Jewish women from around the world who seek the right for Jewish women to conduct prayer services, read from a Torah scroll while wearing prayer shawls, and sing out loud at the Western Wall. Currently, such action is forbidden under Israeli law, which singles out women: “No ceremony shall be held in the Wall’s women’s section. That includes reading from a Torah, blowing the ram’s horn, wearing prayer shawls or phylacteries. Violators shall be imprisoned for seven years.”
The irony is that the Kotel is not a synagogue. Here's a photo of an interfaith, co-ed services. Coed Service at Kotel - In September 1983, U. S. Sixth Fleet Chaplain Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff was allowed to hold an unusual interfaith service at the Wall, in the enclosed area to the left of the exposed Wall, now strictly restricted to men. The ten-minute service was attended by men and women in the U.S. Navy, in addition to some family members, and ended with the Priestly Blessing, recited by Resnicoff, who is a Kohen. A Ministry of Affairs representative was present, responding to press queries that the service was authorized as part of a special welcome for the U.S. Sixth Fleet.

The Reform movement has issued a statement, I hope the Conservative movement will soon follow: Reform Rabbis Issue Statement of Outrage at Israel's Arrest of Woman for Holding Torah at Western Wall
CCAR STATEMENT ON THE ARREST OF ANAT HOFFMAN July 12, 2010 The Central Conference of American Rabbis, the world's oldest and largest rabbinic association, looks with shock and revulsion at today's arrest of Anat Hoffman of "Women of the Wall" for the purported "crime" of holding a sefer Torah in the women's section of the Western Wall during a Rosh Hodesh celebration. We view her arrest, interrogation, and subsequent ban from visiting the Western Wall for a month as acts of "hillul hashem," a desecration of God's name, for they bring public shame and ridicule down upon those responsible for her arrest and upon the Judaism they purport to defend.

After 62 years of statehood, Israel stands at a moral crossroads. Will the Jewish state continue to bar women from equal access to Torah in our most sacred places, or will it foster the free and equal expression of Judaism for men and women alike? Will Jewish life in Israel breathe the free air of religious freedom, or will it continue to be stifled in the choking air of an anachronistic and state-empowered rabbinic fundamentalism? Will Israel's greatest strength, that of being a modern democracy, be undercut by an increasingly ubiquitous medieval theocracy? At a time when the eyes of the world are focused on Israel, will the face Israel presents be tolerant and egalitarian, or intolerant and sexist?

In light of these recent events and the ever-creeping hegemony of ultra-Orthodox agendas, we renew our call for the disestablishment of the Chief Rabbinate.

We commend the Women of the Wall for its holy work and pledge our support of its efforts.

We commend Anat Hoffman for her courageous and her tireless efforts on behalf of religious freedom, pluralism, and equal rights in Israel.

We call upon the majority of our Jewish Israeli sisters and brothers who believe in democracy and religious pluralism to stand up and declare "dai kfar" -- we have had enough of haredi coercion in our lives and in the religious life of our nation.

We affirm that the visions of being both a Jewish state and a modern democracy are inexorably intertwined and interdependent.

We once again pledge our finest efforts to supporting Israel as a Jewish and democratic state as it reflects the highest aspirations of Judaism and the Jewish people and, in doing so, brings sanctity and honor to God's great and holy name.


Religion and State in Israel said...

Thank you Anita for your interesting post.

I especially found the photo of the U.S. Sixth Fleet fascinating. The area in the photo is commonly referred to as "Wilson's Arch".

(ps. Not sure whether Anat Hoffman is in fact a college professor; you might check that out.)

Joel Katz
Religion and State in Israel

- said...

Thank you Joel! Will do!